Federal Court Criminal Dockets are Loaded with Employer Defendants Charged with Harboring Illegal Aliens for Profit as Part of Obama Crackdown Initiative. Should the Feds Invite RICO to the Party for Some Added Fun?

By: Andrew L. Dressler

In one of the biggest crime splashes of the summer months, seven people were indicted by a grand jury in the Eastern District of New York for an illegal alien hiring scheme that spanned fourteen 7-Eleven franchises in both Long Island and Virginia.[1]  The indictment came after a joint federal-state investigation revealed that the seven defendants had hired at least 50 illegal alien employees for these 7-Eleven stores over a thirteen-year period beginning in 2000.[2]  Prosecutors alleged that the defendants hired the illegal aliens for financial gain.[3]  Prosecutors further alleged that the defendants provided the illegal alien employees with stolen identities to conceal their activities.[4]  Court filings suggested that these stolen identities consist of victims from seven different states “ranging in age from 8 to 78[5] and included three dead people, a child, and a Coast Guard Academy cadet.[6]  The indictment charged each defendant with conspiracy to commit wire fraud,[7] conspiracy to conceal and harbor illegal aliens for financial gain,[8] concealing and harboring illegal aliens for financial gain,[9] and 11 counts of aggravated identity theft.[10]  Prosecutors estimated that the defendants derived over $180 million in revenue from the use of illegal labor during that time period.[11]

While this case in particular garnered heavy media attention, this was not the only case to see an employer face criminal charges for mass hiring of illegal aliens.  Federal courts this year have encountered a large criminal docket involving employers charged with harboring illegal aliens for profit.  Taken together, all of these developments appear to stem from President Obama’s ongoing initiative to prevent employers from hiring illegal aliens.[12]  Calling it a crackdown, the President’s initiative is focused on deterrence of illegal hiring and harboring practices within American industry and business.[13]  This year, federal prosecutors in various districts have already convicted or indicted at least five different employers:

In March, two restaurant owners were convicted of harboring illegal aliens for financial gain in the District of Maine.[14]  The conviction came after the jury found that the two defendants used their three Mexican restaurants as a vehicle to hire, employ, and harbor several illegal aliens over a five-year period spanning 2006 to 2011.[15] The jury also found that the two defendants harbored their illegal hires at residences in Maine and provided them with fraudulent green cards and social security numbers.[16]

In April, a construction company, along with its officers and managers, was indicted by a grand jury in the District of Kansas after an investigation revealed large scale hiring of illegal aliens in a scheme federal prosecutors claim was used to cut company costs and maximize profits.[17]

In May, a federal jury in the Middle District of Pennsylvania convicted a Pennsylvania man for his part in running a fraudulent temporary employment agency that harbored what federal prosecutors called an “illegal work force” consisting of hundreds of illegal aliens.[18]

It hasn’t stopped there however.  August and September have seen indictments of restaurant owner defendants in both New Mexico[19] and Kansas,[20] alleging more large scale hiring and harboring of illegal aliens as well as fraud and other charges, all related to the illegal hiring schemes.

So far, these efforts are promising.  That being said, more can be done.   To ensure deterrence and bolster the power of the initiative, federal prosecutors need to be armed with a special weapon, available when needed, and with enough power to really send an important message.  This weapon can be found in the Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.[21] RICO’s purpose is to combat corruption and organized crime in American business and industry.[22]  As such, RICO would lend itself well to the prosecution of illegal alien hiring.  Because of its multitude of predicate offenses (many of which are found in harboring cases),[23] flexible statutory limits,[24] and harsh criminal penalties,[25] federal prosecutors, and ultimately the Obama Administration, can use the RICO Act to send a clear message to employers who derive substantial revenue from the hiring and harboring of illegal aliens: You can try it, but we will find you, and when we do, justice will be swift, and justice will be severe.

[1] Press Release, Nine Individuals Indicted and Fourteen 7-Eleven Stores Secured as Federal Authorities Shut Down Multi-State Scheme to Conceal Systematic Employment of Illegal Immigrants, Victimize Immigrant Employees, and Steal Identities, U.S. Attorney’s Office E.D.N.Y. (June 17, 2013) available at http://oig.ssa.gov/sites/default/files/audit/full/pdf/press.release.Farrukh.Baig_.indict_0.pdf.  

[2] Mosi Secret & William K. Rashbaum, U.S. Seizes 14 7-Eleven Stores in Immigration Raids, N.Y. Times, June 17, 2013, available at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/18/nyregion/us-seizes-14-7-eleven-stores-in-immigration-raids.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Press Release, supra at Note 1, at 3.

[7] Indictment, United States v. Baig, No. 13-170, at 14-15 (E.D.N.Y. June 12, 2013) available at http://images.bimedia.net/documents/Baig+Indictment.FILED.20130612210528379.pdf.

[8] Id. at 15-16.

[9] Id. at 16-17.

[10] Id. at 17-19.

[11] Secret & Rashbaum, supra, Note 2.

[12] See Cracking Down on Employers Hiring Undocumented Workers, Whitehouse.Gov, http://www.whitehouse.gov/issues/immigration/strengthening-enforcement (last visited Oct. 17, 2013).

[13] See Susanna Gamboa, Feds begin immigration crackdown at 625 companies, USA Today, July 11, 2009, available at http://abcnews.go.com/Business/story?id=7979892 (last visited Oct. 17, 2013).  See also Julia Preston, Obama Administration Cracks Down on Illegal Immigrants’ Employers, N.Y. Times, May 29, 2011, available at http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/30/us/politics/30raid.html?pagewanted=all.


[14] Press Release, Restaurant Owners Convicted Of Conspiracy To Harbor And Harboring Undocumented Aliens And Document Fraud, U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of Maine (Mar. 18, 2013) available at http://www.justice.gov/usao/me/news/20130318_fuentes_guillermo_convicted_fuentes_hector_convicted.html

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] See Press Release, Kansas City construction company owners indicted for money laundering, harboring illegal aliens, U.S. Customs & Immigration Enforcement (Apr. 1 2013) available at http://www.ice.gov/news/releases/1304/130401kansascity.htm.

[18] See Press Release, Pennsylvania man convicted of conspiracy to commit money laundering; harboring, transporting and employing illegal aliens, U.S. Customs & Immigration Enforcement (May 2, 2013) available at http://www.ice.gov/news/releases/1305/130502scranton.htm.

[19]  See Press Release, 2 owners of NM Chinese restaurants charged with harboring illegal aliens, U.S. Customs & Immigration Enforcement (Aug. 28, 2013) available at http://www.ice.gov/news/releases/1308/130828albuquerque.htm.

[20] See Press Release, Eastern Kansas restaurant manager indicted for harboring illegal aliens (Sept. 26, 2013) available at http://www.ice.gov/news/releases/1309/130926kansascity.htm.

[21] 18 U.S.C. §§ 1961-1968 (2006).

[22] See Organized Crime Control Act of 1970 (OCCA), Pub. L. No. 91-452, § 1, 84 Stat. 922, 922 (1970) (Congressional Statement of Findings and Purpose) (codified at 18 U.S.C. §§ 1961-1968).

[23] 18 U.S.C. § 1961(1)(a)-(f) (2006).

[24] See 18 U.S.C. § 1961(5) (2006).

[25] See 18 U.S.C. § 1963 (2006).

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